A long winded counter arguement to Drive.com.au’s article regarding a 130 km/h speed limit for the Hume Highway, which was also featured in the Canberra Times. Only 1600 or so words, read on if interested 🙂
The issue of speed limits in Australia can get anyone going. Everyone has an opinion.
This was proven in a recent article by Drive, “Why 130 km/h makes sense for the Hume Highway”, when over 23,000 people voted in a poll for the article… 91% of whom voted that the speed limit on the Hume Highway should be at least 120 km/h.
My argument on this topic is a long one (TL;DR). The gist of it is this: Australian rural dual carriageways should not have a speed limit of 130 km/h. The handful of rural motorways (aka freeways) that we do have in Australia could have a speed limit of 130 km/h once we have median barriers along their entire length, but not before certain changes are made in our legal definitions of motorways and dual carriageways. Australian drivers also need to be properly taught the difference between a freeway and dual carriageway and the etiquette for each.
Above: An education campaign from the UK telling people what to do in case of breakdown on a high speed motorway. It is illegal to stop on motorways in the UK except for in an emergency. The same law applies on freeways in New South Wales, yet many Australians are oblivious to this.
Many of those who argue for 130 km/h or more on our rural dual carriageways are very quick to utter the words “Europe” or “Germany” or “Autobahn”. They’ll compare German Autobahns, Italy’s Autostrade’s or Spain’s Autopista’s to Australia’s rural dual carriageways… despite comparing European Motorways and Australian rural dual carriageways being like comparing apples and pumpkins.
Australia does not have very many motorways / freeways that meet international standards, far from it. In rural areas we have almost none at all. There is a common misconception that we do… not helped by the Victorian Government officially naming their upgraded Hume Highway, the Hume Freeway, when it’s only a Dual Carriageway. Not helped by all states in Australia implementing 110 km/h speed limits on rural dual carriageways, outback single carriageways, and 110 km/h rural freeways, further blurring the line between the very different classes of roads.
What’s the difference between our rural dual carriageways and Europe’s motorways?
Prior to implementing speeds as high as 130 km/h on the Hume Highway or any rural dual carriageways, we must do several things to upgrade them to international motorway standard. This requires:
- Most Importantly: No at grade intersections or private entrances. This means no T intersections or cross roads. No give way signs or stop signs. Every intersection must comprise of a bridge (multiple grades) with on and off ramps.
This is already the case on freeways in NSW, and the 80 km freeway portion of the Hume Highway from Berrima to the M7. Victoria however has named their portion of the Hume Highway, the Hume Freeway and given it the alpha numeric route marker of M31. Despite there being multiple at grade intersections along the Hume from Wodonga to Tallarook. Full access control is a critical component of a true motorway. To meet this requirement on the Hume will require massive amounts of investment from state and federal governments before we can safely operate vehicles at motorway speeds on the Hume Highway.
- Many portions of New South Wales dual carriageways are originally single carriageway roads that have had a newer and better grade of carriageway built alongside, then been converted to one way traffic. Some of these sections are pushing having a 110 km/h speed limit in their current state, and would need to be demolished and rebuilt to current standards before a higher speed limit is considered.
- Laws prohibiting slower vehicles on the higher speed roads would need to be legislated and enforced. Vehicles which are not able to comfortably maintain a 60 km/h average for example. Scooters, horse drawn vehicles, bicycles, tractors and pedestrians. Currently all of these are permitted to operate on much of the Hume Highway.
- If such vehicles are prohibited, then access / service roads with lower speed limits must operate alongside or close the new motorway along its entire length. It would be a violation of basic human rights to prohibit a person from being able to get somewhere unless they had enough money to purchase a motor vehicle or bus ticket.
- U-Turns are currently illegal on NSW motorways and freeways. The penalty for which is a mere few hundred dollars and 3 points, the same as performing an illegal U-Turn on a 50 km/h street. A motor vehicle operator performing an illegal U-Turn in 130 km/h traffic could easily result in a fatal crash. An education campaign about illegal U-Turns on motorways would be required, as well as increasing the penalty for such offences substantially.
- Serious penalties and education campaigns against tailgating and other aggressive or intimidating behaviour. The level of tailgating on Australian rural dual carriageways at present is nothing short of disgusting. Tailgating at 130 km/h can easily result in huge pile ups.
- A physical central median barrier along the entire length of a road should be implemented prior to a government being able to label that road a motorway / freeway. It is a basic requirement of preventing cross over, head on collisions. The majority of the Hume Highway does not have these barriers.
Australia does not have many motorways in rural areas
The international definitions of motorways are as follows:
Institute of Transportation Engineers. Freeway: This is a divided major roadway with full control of access and with no crossings at grade. This definition applies to toll as well as nontoll roads.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Freeway: Road, specially designed and built for motor traffic, which does not serve properties bordering on it, and which:
(a) is provided, except at special points or temporarily, with separate carriageways for the two directions of traffic, separated from each other, either by a dividing strip not intended for traffic, or exceptionally by other means;
(b) does not cross at level with any road, railway or tramway track, or footpath;
(c) is specially sign-posted as a motorway and is reserved for specific categories of road motor vehicles.
British Standards. Motorway: Limited access dual carriageway road not crossed on the same level by other traffic lanes, for the exclusive use of certain classes of motor vehicles.
Australian Standards: I’m yet to find one.
Of the international standards that exist for motorways, the key point in all of them are “No Crossings at Grade”/”Does not cross at level with any road”“. As mentioned above, this means, absolutely no intersections where another vehicle may cross the carriageway in front of a vehicle approaching at high speed. No give way signs, no stop signs, no U-Turns, no private entrances no stopping is permitted at all. To be classified as a motorway or freeway, a road MUST have exit and entrance ramps only.
This means that the Hume Highway, for over 600 km between Berrima NSW and Tallarook VIC is not a motorway, or a freeway by international standards. It is a dual carriageway, or expressway only.. A grade below being a motorway or freeway.
International speed limits for rural dual carriageways are typically between 80 km/h and 120 km/h. At 110 km/h, our rural dual carriageway limits are at the higher end of the international scale.
International speed limits for rural freeways are typically between 110 km/h and 130 km/h. So at 110 km/h, our rural freeways are at the lower end of the scale.
No, our speed limits do not appear to make sense in their present state and are overdue for a review. However demands for 130 km/h on our dual carriageways in their current state are unrealistic and not well thought through.
But what about the NT’s 130 km/h limits?
The Northern Territory has unique highways. Good quality, single carriageway roads with incredibly sparse traffic. The population dentition of the Northern Territory is the lowest in Australia, and one of the lowest in the developed world at 0.17 people per square km. Compare that to New South Wales 9 people, or Victoria’s 24 people per square km.
Speed limits in rural areas of the Northern Territory are a hot topic within the territory itself. Especially considering the year that rural speed limits were introduced (2007), saw their road toll jump by more than 30% compared to the previous year when they had no speed limits. However, that is a different subject for discussion.
That said, the relatively crowded area of south eastern NSW and central Vic that the Hume Highway passes through, cannot be compared to the near deserted central Northern Territory by any means.
Why doesn’t Australia have a network of motorways that comply with international standards?
Europe has a population density of over 70 people per square kilometre, a population of 800 million. Australia as a whole, not even 3 people per square kilometre over a similar sized land mass. Australia does not have the population or funding to build a fully-fledged freeway system across the whole country yet.
There are some portions of road classified as Freeway in NSW that could easily have a 120 km/h speed limit today without any modification, this could be reasonably upgraded to 130 km/h with only minor modification. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau suggested these speeds were already possible in a report titled Potential benefits and costs of speed changes on rural roads” back in 2003.
The majority of rural dual carriageways in NSW and Victoria will need major infrastructure upgrades prior to a 130 km/h speed limit being feasible. Funding for such a project could cost billions. Money which could be argued would be better for long overdue railway upgrades in the first instance. However, with minor modifications, the majority of the Hume Highway could reasonably see a speed limit of 120 km/h within a few years.